Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) Amazon plans to pay to completely revamp the “central park” next to its future HQ2, with a well-known designer at the helm.

The company and its architecture firm presented the latest plans for its permanent headquarters in Pentagon City to the Arlington Transportation Commission last night, ahead of an expected vote by the County Board on Dec. 14.

Amazon has offered to contribute a record $20 million to Arlington’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, in exchange for being able to build the first half of its HQ2 bigger than otherwise would be permitted by zoning. The plans include two 22-story towers with a total of 2.15 million square feet of office and retail space.

Also of additional note is Amazon’s proposal for what is currently a modestly-sized and off-the-beaten-path park.

The second phase of HQ2 — the 500,000 square feet of temporary leased space in Crystal City is considered the first phase — would complete the “Metropolitan Park” development that includes four apartment buildings across from the Pentagon City Costco and along 12th Street S. Amazon is proposing to fund “a complete redevelopment of the park” in the middle of the buildings.

After expanding with an additional half acre of space from Amazon — not to mention a pair of new plazas totalling 20,000 square feet — the park will total more than 2 acres. But Amazon and Arlington County have grander plans for that space than the current park’s status as a defacto dog park for nearby apartment residents.

The county is expected to launch a master plan process for the park early next year, seeking community input on planned changes, according to Brian Earle, the lead architect of HQ2. Leading the design process will be James Corner Field Operations, the noted designer of New York City’s High Line.

Corner is “a real preeminent thinker about great urban space to help us realize the potential of that space,” Earle told the Transportation Commission.

Amazon will pay for the design, the public engagement process, the park construction and its maintenance, according to a draft site plan. The expected cost is $14 million, the Washington Business Journal reported.

Adjacent to the park and HQ2, meanwhile, portions of 14th Street and Elm Street are proposed to be flush with the sidewalk, making the streets, which will be open to traffic during business hours, more usable for events and other off-hours activities.

In front of HQ2, along S. Eads Street and extending to the Bartlett apartment building and Amazon-owned Whole Foods store, will be a “linear park.” The thin strip of parkland from 15th to 12th streets would include trees, string lights and cafe seating for the retail space at the base of Amazon’s towers.

The draft site plan describes “café seating associated with retail spaces, passive seating, public art, or programming” to “create open, flexible spaces for seating to encourage social activity” as part of the linear park.

Other planned HQ2 features discussed at the Transportation Commission meeting include:

  • LEED Platinum sustainability certification (upgraded from an earlier plan for LEED Gold)
  • A gleaming 700-person meeting center at the corner of 15th and Elm streets that will be available to the county and other users after hours
  • Undergrounding of utilities and removal of utility poles
  • A daycare facility
  • New bus shelters, protected bike lanes, and traffic signals, plus other road and transit improvements

Earle noted during his presentation that Pentagon City’s “concentrated environment,” with walkable streets and variety of transit options, was “critically important” to Amazon in its decision to locate here.

After discussion of planned bike lanes, parking, pedestrian access and other issues, the Transportation Commission voted 10-1 to recommend the project for County Board approval. If approved, the new buildings are expected to open in 2023.

A third phase of Amazon’s HQ2 at the still-vacant PenPlace site along 12th Street, housing about half of its expected 25,000 employees, will follow the Metropolitan Park phase. In total, Amazon expects to build 4.2 million square feet of new space.

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